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The First Eight Presidents of the United States of America
November 7, 2002 11:02 PM   Subscribe

John Hanson (November 5, 1781 - November 3, 1782), Elias Boudinot (November 4, 1782 - November 2, 1783), Thomas Mifflin (November 3, 1783 - June 3, 1784), Richard Henry Lee (November 30, 1784 - November 22, 1785), John Hancock (November 23, 1785 - June 5, 1786), Nathaniel Gorham (June 1786 until January 1787), Arthur St. Clair (February 2 , 1787 - January 21, 1788), and Cyrus Griffin (January 22, 1788 – April 29, 1789)--under The Articles of the Confederation.
Everything you know is wrong--George Washington was the 9th President
--or 8th, depending on how you call it on John Hancock's term. [More inside]
posted by y2karl (28 comments total)

 
Well, Snopes disagrees on the grounds the Articles of Confederation never mentions the United States as such. However, the Continetal Congress offically renamed the United Colonies as the United States on September 9, 1776 and The Great Seal Of The United States was offically adopted in 1782 during John Hanson's Presidency of the Continental Congress. Hold that hair still--I'll get the microlaser nano-scalpel. I deride Snopes's truth handling abilities.
I say go for it--You may never pay for another beer again.
posted by y2karl at 11:04 PM on November 7, 2002


oops, I meant The Great Seal Of The United States...
posted by y2karl at 11:06 PM on November 7, 2002


From that first link (on John Hanson) it states:

George Washington was definitely not the first President of the United States. He was the first President of the United States under the Constitution we follow today.

Seeing as how the Constitution forms the basis of American govt is it wise to say that Washington was the first president of the current form of American govt?

These 8 presidents seem to have been fulfilling almost a caretaker role between the end of colonial rule and the adoption of the modern American governmental system.
posted by PenDevil at 12:23 AM on November 8, 2002


Very interesting!

Was the Continental Congress English? I am assuming it was a colonial extension of the crown. If that's the case, then these men may be called presidents in name, but the American title today means something different than it did then.

To quote a link:
"George Washington was definitely not the first President of the United States. He was the first President of the United States under the Constitution we follow today."
posted by hama7 at 1:52 AM on November 8, 2002


hama7: no, it's after the revolutionary war actually. Under the "Articles of Confederation" the US (UC?) had a very weak central government, and almost all power was in the hands of the states, which caused all sorts of wacky problems. So in 1789 they ditched it and held a constitutional convention to get the one thats in place now.
posted by condour75 at 2:03 AM on November 8, 2002


So in 1789 they ditched it and held a constitutional convention to get the one thats in place now.

Thanks condour. This is not my area of expertise, but after the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, I am surprised that there was a Continental Congress. We live and learn.

The weak central government which you mentioned, is the starry-eyed, heavenly utopia to which many Republicans aspire (self included). Those were the days.
posted by hama7 at 2:39 AM on November 8, 2002


On John Hanson:
If he had failed, the government would have fallen almost immediately and everyone would have been bowing to King Washington

This is simply not true. In fact, the soldiers of the Continental Army had been grumbling about not getting paid for some time before Hanson was "president". On January 1, 1781 the Pennsylvania Continentals mutinied during the war, and were hanged as traitors, and on Jan. 20 of the same year, the New Jersey Continentals did the same (though only 2 leaders of the mutiny were executed). Two years later, on March 17, 1783, (after Hanson's term) G. Washington addressed mutinous officers that had actually wanted him to take the reigns of the fledgling government and diffused the situation with particular poise with the famous self-deprecating comment: "Gentleman, you must pardon me; I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind".

As to the rest of it -- ah, it's all bunk. First off, the "president" was simply the President of the Congress. The separation of powers that we currently accept as fundemental to our country simply wasn't there. And if you really want to split hairs and claim that the Continental Congress was, in fact, the current United States, then this article is still wrong. The Articles of Confederation were ratified during the term of Samuel Huntington who served as President from September 28, 1779 to July 6, 1781. So if you want to be a political hair-splitter and historical asshole, Sam Huntington was the first president.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:40 AM on November 8, 2002


civil: yea, but can't everything I know still be wrong anyway?
posted by victors at 3:19 AM on November 8, 2002


but can't everything I know still be wrong anyway?

Yes sir. Everything you know is wrong.

Now there's just this little matter of the re-education process....
posted by hama7 at 3:53 AM on November 8, 2002


Here's a detailed article about the pre-Washington presidents (or "presidents," whatever floats your boat), including Samuel Huntington. There's even a letter from George Washington to Samuel Huntington adressing Huntington as "President of the United States."

You could also say that the first president of something called the United States was John Hancock, who was president of the Continenal Congress when the Declaration of Indepence was signed. In fact, when the declaration was originally published, the only signature was John Hancock, as president. Nobody else signed until after August 2, according to Snopes.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:44 AM on November 8, 2002


Now there's just this little matter of the re-education process...
and we'll soon have convenient camps to handle that!
posted by quonsar at 5:24 AM on November 8, 2002


and we'll soon have convenient camps to handle that!

Forsooth! They are not called 'camps', but 'The Instututes of Post-Graduate Education at the Guantanamo Campus'.
posted by hama7 at 5:46 AM on November 8, 2002


Here's another interesting question:

Who was the first American President.
posted by mapalm at 7:20 AM on November 8, 2002


civil: yea, but can't everything I know still be wrong anyway?

Don't forget Ben Franklin: the only President of the United States who was never President of the United States.

(Oh, it's all just gas music from Jupiter anyway.)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:21 AM on November 8, 2002


The era right around the Revolution was an interesting time — all sorts of Safety Committees and loosely-defined pseudo-official offices and nebulous governing bodies. It's enough to bring a tear to an anarcho-capitalists eye, I tell you.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:31 AM on November 8, 2002


all sorts of Safety Committees and loosely-defined pseudo-official offices and nebulous governing bodies

Not so much different than today, though the "Department of Homeland Security" sure sounds a lot like the "Commitee for Public Safety" (France, I know, but still).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:56 AM on November 8, 2002


Everything you know is wrong

Ah, somebody still remembers the Firesign Theatre!
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on November 8, 2002


Shoes for Industry Comrade!
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:54 AM on November 8, 2002


Zion! Oh mighty Zion! Your bison now are dust! As your cornflakes rise, against the rust-red skies, then our blood requires us must go.
posted by waldo at 8:58 AM on November 8, 2002


(Last one, I swear)
Papoon for President! He's not insane!
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:01 AM on November 8, 2002


While on the topic of quasi-presidents, how about a tip of the hat to David Rice Atchison, who some claim was the real President #12 (albeit only for a day). Renumber the list accordingly.
posted by Man-Thing at 9:22 AM on November 8, 2002


And we took to them.
And they took to us.
And whaddya think they took?
Oil from Canada
Gold from Mexico
Geese from their neighbor's back yard.
Corn from the Indians
Tobacco from the Indians
New York from the Indians
New Jersey from the Indians
New Hampshire from the Indians
*Indonesia for Indonesians!*
Ah, yes. . .
And Veteran's Day
posted by rdone at 9:39 AM on November 8, 2002


*cough* It should be, ahem, self-evident that the Continental Congress preceded the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the First Continental Congress was established in 1774 following increasing unrest (e.g. Boston Tea Party) and British oppression (the Intolerable Acts). It was simply a gathering of casual representatives of the various colonies, much as today we have the National Governors Association or regional groupings like the Western Governors Association -- policy coordination bodies. The first major accomplishment was the Declaration of Colonial Rights, i.e. as British subjects under the King. (Indeed, they had actually discussed a plan for union of the colonies and Great Britain under one government.) A year later, convened as the Second Continental Congress -- which would essentially remain in succeeding years -- they argued over independence, rejected it, sent King George the Olive Branch Petition, and to back up their determination created the Continental Army under Washington. Then, one summer later, the 2nd congress convened again -- when nothing had come of their petition and colonist anger had reached a boiling point, they declared independence.

I agree that people know far too little about the Articles of Confederation. For one thing, knowing its history helps you to appreciate the dramatic risks and outstanding successes involved in creating the Constitution. I think it's a mistake, though, to characterize either the Continental Congress or the US under the Articles as a single, independent nation. Washington was the first president of the United States, which was the way contemporaries saw it, and there's no sleight of hand involved. The earlier governments were federations of separate nations; the US under the Constitution was to be one nation.
posted by dhartung at 9:47 AM on November 8, 2002


Others' comments lead me to a question: Assume that the U.S. were to have a constitutional convention very soon. The next President of the U.S. is, again, just assume, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. Should one then call President Ciccone the 44th President of the United States, the 52nd, the 51st, or, just perhaps, the 1st?
posted by Stoatfarm at 11:02 AM on November 8, 2002


Once again, I was utterly unaware of this controversy. Fascinating stuff.

Thanks, y2karl.
posted by FeetOfClay at 1:49 PM on November 8, 2002


Shoes for Industry Comrade!

After hanging around MeFi for a while, I was pretty much convinced that we were all bozos on this bus - thanks for removing all doubt!

Mooooore sugar!!!
posted by RevGreg at 3:20 PM on November 8, 2002


Man, I'm hungry! You wouldn't have any groat clusters I could nibble on...
posted by languagehat at 5:16 PM on November 8, 2002


Stoatfarm: Perhaps the French example is instructive. Jacques Chirac is the Fifth President of the Fifth Republic. Indeed, this construction can be found several places that have had constitutional turnover -- Venezuela, Mexico, South Korea, etc.
posted by dhartung at 5:34 PM on November 8, 2002


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